The Advertising of Politics and the Politics of Advertising Jonathan Rose disdain for rhetoric was a philosophical one in that rhetoricians were not interested in transcendental truths but rather in persuading the audience of an argument. Plato's student, Anstotle, in his book Rhetoric, disagreed with his teacher, arguing instead that rhetoric could be used for both good or evil. Unlike Plato's dialectic, which dealt with broad philosophical principles and certainty, Anstotle's rhetoric dealt with specific issues and probability based on how plausible the audience found the argument. In its most general sense, rhetoric is about finding the best mode of persuasion. Aristotle wrote:
;P##$~. overnments talk. They listen and they
$8gmtspeak. Government communication occurs $*&gg$&:?
in a number of different ways. Historically, political parties, mass media, interest groups have all contributed to our public conversation drectly and routinely. In the past these methods were supplemented by advertising. Now, seemingly, the previously normal means have been overshadowed by the power and presence of government advertising. It is not confined to any one political party or any region. We see it everywhere: the government of Ontario, for instance, spent $4 million on a series of health-care ads, one of which showed a young boy with a Band-Aid and a tag line that said "sometimes change hurts";' the government of Quebec used it to complain that O t t a w a was short-changing Quebecers in transfer payments" (see Figure 5 ) ; the government of British Columbia spent $5 million to persuade its citizens that the Nisga'a treaty was a sound one;' the federal government bombards our homes around Canada Day reminding us that, according to the United Nations, Canada is the best place to live in the world.' Recently, the federal government spent $6 million on a television advertising campaign designed to give it major credit for a federa.-provincial health agreement.' All of these ads are similar in one way: they are designed to persuade mass publics of the virtues of a government initiative. This chapter will explore the advertisement as an increasingly used tool of the state in an effort to show how governments communicate and what they are saying through this mode of communication. .,gav9B:.' ***4
Rhetoric may be defined as the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. This is not a function of any other art. Every other art can instruct or persuade about its own particular subject-matter; for instance medicine about what is healthy and unhealthy; geometry about the properties of magnitude, arithmetic about numbcrs and the same is true of the other arts and sciences. Rut rhetor~cwe look upon as the power of observing the means of persuasion 011 almost any subjcct presented to us; and that is why we say that. in its technical character. it is not concerned with any special or definite class of subjects.'
The great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye said that "rhetoric has from the begnning meant two things: ornamental speech and persuasive speech. These two things seem psychologically opposed to each other, as the desire to ornament is essentially hsinterested, and the desire to persuade the reverse."' In this chapter we will use the word rhetoric in the Anstotelian sense, namely any form of persuasion. One of its most familiar forms is judicial speech, such as the closing arguments of a lawyer; it can also be deliberative such Martin Luther k g ' s "I Have A Dream" speech. Rhetoric can also be ceremonial, designed to praise, such as the Speech from the Throne that occurs at the beginning of every Parliament in Canada. The eulogy given byJustin Trudeau praising his father is a notable recent example of epideictic or ceremonial rhetoric. Rhetoric need not be verbal. It can also be visual. When Alliance Party leader Stockwell Day entered the House of
Rhetoric and Advertising All advertising is a form of rhetoric. In common parlance, we often use the word rhetoric to mean something vacuous or meaningless or something that does not require a response, such as a rhetoncal question. Its original meaning is far from that. In ancient Greece, Plato believed that rhetoric was the art of flattery and had no use in seeking the truth. His -
PART3: PROCESS Ah'D
IRIPAC?. OF THE
government is stretching to new boundaries and creating a new and potentially harmful way of communicating with mass publics. This chapter will also review some common arguments made against government advertising and why advertising may have a corrosive effect on public deliberation. Is Government Advertising New?
Government advertising in Canada has been around since before Confederation. In Canada it originated in a myriad of official gazettes and unofficial government newspapers. After Confederation, the federal government's first large-scale campaign was advertising for immigration. It appears that advertising was a vitally important component of the government's communication campaign in support of immigration well into the twentieth century. This early campaign had much to do with Clifford Sifton, the Minister of the Interior in Wilfrid Laurier's government, who was one of the early enthusiastic proponents of advertising. Not only did he use it to attract "desirable" immigrants. but he also used advertising as a form of subsidy to newspaper publishing. Sifton had this to say about selling Canada to immigrants: "In my judgement, and in the judgement of my officers, the immigration work has to be canied on in the same manner as the sale of any commodity; just as soon as you stop advertising and missionary work the movement is going to stop."c1 In American newspapers, the Canadian federal government ran ads under the slogan of "Free Land Clubs." One ad proclaimed "Free Farms for the Million" (Figure l).Language was carefully parsed to ensure that the correct tone was used in the ad. Certain words, such as "pioneer," were never used, perhaps because of the negative association conveyed by them. "Snow" was never mentioned and "cold" was replaced with "invigorating" and "bracing" in advertisements. In "Free Farms" the weather is described as "the healthiest in the world." Pierre Berton writes that one immigrant said that
FIGURE 1: Nineteenth-century Canadian goverment immigration advertisement
Commons in September 2000, he told the national press gallery that he would no longer participate in "scrums" (the ad hoc media interviews that take place outside of the legislature) preferring instead to speak at scheduled press conferences in front of a podium with a background of Canadan flags. The rhetoric here was clear. In choosing this venue he was attempting to portray himself as a prime minister rather than an opposition leader. Linlung disparate images (prime ministerial podium/opposition leader) he makes an implicit argument about how he wants to be portrayed. This is called "associative logic" and is a staple in advertising where implicit connections are made between a product and a certain lund of lifestyle or values. We see rhetoric everywhere, from ads on television to the fashion sense of university students20 architecture such as the gleaming-gold bank towers in Toronto or the classical Greek architecture that adorns many court houses. This chapter will examine rhetoric or the art of persuasion through advertisements of the federal government in Canada. Increasingly, advertising is an important component of any government's communication arsenal. An examination of it will tell us what rhetorical messages are being communicated, how arguments are made semantically, and how advertising by
the kindest thing to say about [the advertisemenisl is that [they were] a little on the optimistic side. Canada was said to have a healthy climate guaranteed to be free of malaria. One has to admit that this was true. It was said thai while thc prairie summers were hot, the heat was delightfully invigorating and while it got cold in winter the cold was dry and not unpleasant. I used to recaII those glowing words as I pitches sheaves with temperatures at $15in the shade, and as I ran behind the sleigh at 30 below Lo kcep fiom freezing."'
In "Western Canada, the New Eldorado" ( Figure 2) the concerns of potential immigrants were anticipated: Western Canada is "easy to reach," there's
11: TIIEAD\,ERTISINCOF POLITICS AND THE PO1.1'11Ch O r A111 t.li1 ISIS(;
between Ottawa and the provinces muddied the jurisdictional waters with each side claiming credit for having the burden of funding the growing social welfare state. Advertising became an important method for the federal government to claim its share of credit for policies and programs that it funded. With Canada's centennial and Expo in 1967, the federal government's appetite for advertising grew even more. While the dominant kinds of ads during this period were "feel g o o d ads, the style portended the present-day Canada Day and Olympic ads, which make a virtue out of citizenship. This period also marked the introduction of the Canada "word mark" or logo on all of its ads. The federal government completed its transformation from political entity to brand name. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s it had entrenched itself as the largest advertiser in the country. Virtually every year, it had spent more money on advertising than large corporations such as General Motors or Proctor and Gamble. While it is no longer the largest advertiser, it is consistently among the top five. FIGURE 2: "Western Canada: The New Eldorado" "nothing to fear," and perhaps responding to fears of the west being too "wild," families would be "protected by government." The juxtaposition of the horse-drawn carriage on the left with the expansive farm house on the right makes a visual argument about claims of material prosperity that await new immigrants. Underneath the pictures is a warrant, or reason, for immigrating to Canada: "This is your opportunity. Why not embrace it?" beckons the ad. While the rhetoric of these early immigration ads may have been as overheated as the prairie summers they advertised, it established the federal government as an important player in the advertising business. The two world wars also saw the federal government as an active participant in propaganda, which took the euphemism of "Victory Bond campaigns." Using some of the most visually evocative images that have ever appeared in print advertising, the federal government was able to portray the enemy as blood-thirsty while at the same time portraying "our boys" as shining knights, keeping the world safe for democracy.11After the Second World War, the welfare state was significantly expanded. The advent of medicare and social welfare policies blurred the lines between federal and provincial responsibilities. Those complex arrangements made
The Politics of Advertising Advertising may be the most common form of mass persuasion that we come across in our lives. Arguably, it rivals almost all other institutions in terms of influence and pervasiveness. It infuses our habits, customs, and language. It shapes our mores and reinforces class, gender, and racial distinctions. Advertising has a profound effect on children's socialization. This should not be a surprise since a typical child may view 45,000 television ads in a year.LL In fact, one of the most familiar and easily recognized icons for children is -Toe Camel, a cartoon character from an advertising campaign designed to sell cigarettes." Benjamin Singer argues that children's advertising is a science that employs sophisticated psychological techniques to reach its audience." The United States spends more money on advertising than 66 other nations combined, including all of the other members of the G-7 economies.'"Gillian Dyer suggests that "it could be argued that advertising nowadays fulfils a function traditionally met by art or religion."lb Though we may not recognize it, advertising is deeply political. It is one of the most powerful social forces in advanced industrialized economies. Because of its political nature, advertising is deeply ideological. This section will explore the ideological implications of all forms of advertising. In doing so, an argument will be made that government advertising, which employs the same vocabulary as
PART3: PROCESS AND I;2IPACr O F 1FIF MLDI\
lmmercial advertising, forces citizens to think like (.on>umersand treats public institutions like brand names. The effect of this can only be corrosive on democratic deliberation and further inhibits a robust form of citizen participation. 1
It is precisely because of its ubiquity that we may not see the ideological implications of advertisements. We may see them as vehicles merely to sell products and their ostensible purpose is certainly just that. But they can be read at a deeper level as well. Like any visual representation, such as a painting, film, or photograph, advertisements have certain rules and codes which, when put together, constitute a grammar. This grammar is so widely shared that we fail to see how these rules socially construct and help m a k e sense of t h e world a r o u n d us. C . B . Macpherson used the cliche "conspicuous consumption" (originally coined by Thorstein Veblen in % Reory of the Leisure Class in 1899), to analyze advanced capitalist economies such as Canada in which individual worth is measured by our ability to possess or consume. Our involvement in the wider world is dictated by the possessions that we own. As a result, we retreat from the public sphere into our own private world where possessions instead of community are what link us to others. Building on the work of Macpherson, William Leiss in his book Limits to Satis-ction argues that marketing in late capitalism is noteworthy for its fusion of the symbolic and material benefits of goods sold through advertising. Goods, such as SUVs or Nike clothing, have less intrinsic value than they do symbolic value. The ideological component of ads is transparent to us because it reinforces our value system. One ad from the American Association of Advertising Agencies makes the claim that "advertising is a mirror of society's tastes." The tag line bluntly reads, "Advertising. Another word for Freedom of Choice."" From this we can construct a simple syllogism that may help us understand the rhetoric of this ad : Major premise: Advertising is freedom of choice. Minor premise: We believe in freedom of choice. Conclusion: Therefore we believe in advertising.
The major premise is clearly stated in the tag line. What is missing is the minor premise. In order to make sense of the message, the reader must provide a missing premise. It is supplied easily because it is an important tenet of our belief system, and as such has an ideological component. This lund of rhetoric is called an "enthymeme."
O n e of the most famous modern political speeches relied on an enthymeme to persuade the audience. Martin Luther KmgJr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech can be expressed in the following syllogism: Major premise: God will reward non-violence. Minor premise: We are pursuing our dream non-violenily. Conclusion: God will grant us our dream.
According to Em Griffen, "Kng used the first two-thirds of the speech to establish the validity of the minor premise.. . . K n g used the last third of his speech to establish his conclusion.. .. But he never articulated the major premise."" The argument made sense only if the listener provided it. One of the reasons "I Have a Dream" was such a powerful speech was that the missing premise was so clearly understood by the audience. Anstotle called the rhetorical technique of the enthymeme the "most effective of all forms of persuasion."'" As we will see, it is used often in government advertising. Andrew Wernick provides an excellent example of a recent advertising campaign that may be perceived to be non-ideological because it presents as "natural" a worldview that does not challenge our own. He writes that "Bennetton's 'Colours of the World' Campaign makes a liberal virtue out of its cosmopolitan ambition to capture a global market for its luddie fashion clothes. For the affluent, new, middle-class stratum at which it is aimed, its vapid, feel-good colour-blindness will not, perhaps seem ideological at all."" Louis Althusser reminds us that we need not be conscious of ideology for it to be present: "Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." In other words, individuals internalize ideology but our behaviour is guided by the demands of the ideological apparatus that is liberal democratic capitalism. Developing the arguments made by Althusser and applying them to advertising, Raymond Williams has written that advertising employs its own ideology or "magic system." He writes, "If the consumption of individual goods leaves that whole area of human need unsatisfied, the attempt is made, by magic, to associate this consumption with human desires to which it has no real reference." In commercial advertising, the relationship between the product and a human desire is known to all of us. Lexus cars are sold as displays or indicators of success, beer of all varieties is sold as a promoter of popularity, DeBeers markets diamonds as testaments of love-the bigger the diamond the greater the love. Lest you buy too small a diamond, their ads even provide the helpful advice of how much money
FIGURE 3: Bennetton's "Burning Car"
FIGURE 4: Bennetton's "Refugees"
should be spent on an engagement ring. (Three months salary, in case you wanted to know.) All of these examples demonstrate the associative properties of advertising. If the ad is to "work," the connection between the product and the value must be rhetorically clear. Often there are divergent ways of viewing an ad. This is called "polysemy" and occasionally it is the point that the advertiser wishes to communicate. I n an infamous series of ads, Bennetton, the clothing manufacturer, chose to market its clothing by portraying a burning car or a truck full of refugees (see Figures 3 and 4). In these ads, the image portrayed seems to have little or no bearing on the product. According to John Fiske, this h n d of communication is called entropy, which is "less comfortable, more stimulating, more shochng perhaps but harder to communicate effectively."" When communication is entropic, it has high informational value because it challenges our expectations.
out, the white men force a pair of Nikes on his feet. When the runner awakens, he sees the sneakers and begins shouting and flailing. 'No! No!' he cries. He then scrambles to his feet and runs away, still trying to shake the shoes from his feet."" The ad, whose argument was supposed to be that Just for Feet will do just about anything to put shoes on its customers, was read as "This is a shoe firm that is racially and culturally insensitive." In this and other controversial campaigns, the advertising agency may have a different u n d e r s t ~ d i n gthan its client of the public mood or tolerance of irony, exaggeration, litotes, or other rhetorical tropes. When advertisers misjudge a product it may have an effect on the sales of the company. When government advertisements fail it may be because the viewer draws the wrong inference but it may also be a consequence of the "product" itself. As we shall see, government advertising of certain policies is viewed with equanimity; others are seen as blatantly propagandistic.
While Bennetton's advertising agency likely wants to shock the reader as a rhetorical technique, in other cases this is entirely inadvertent. This was the case in a recent dispute between an American shoe manufacturer called Just For Feet and its advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi. The agency, which was paid $7 million to produce an advertisement during the 1998 Superbowl, is being sued by the client who claims that the ad has tarnished its reputation by contributing to the "entirely unfounded and unintended public perception that it is a racist or racially insensitive company." According to Salon magazine, "The ad opens with a shot of white men in a military Humvee tracking the footprints of a barefoot black Kenyan runner. The men drive ahead to offer the runner a cup of water laced with a knockout drug. The runner drinks the water, and immediately collapses to the ground, unconscious. While he is passed
Do Ads Work? Advertising agencies and all forms of mass media make their money from the belief that advertising works. There is an industry of experts whose livelihood depends on society's belief that advertising successfully persuades people to buy. Foremost among these is Nielsen Media Research, which measures audience share of television programs, which in turn is the basis of how much media organizations charge for a commercial. Below that are advertising agencies that produce the ads, and polling companies and firms that engage in focus-group testing to assess t l ~ e consumer's response to the messages. Data vendors sell statistics to confirm the target audience and help show how well an ad will do in a particular context. Often these data senre as a legitimating device for the
PART3: PROCESS 4ND IbIPACT 01. 1.H1-; MEDIA
. ::cI;[ ho is more likely to understand the origin of d~c1110ns based on "numbers" than the often more chaotic and idiosyncratic creative process. However sophisticated these techniques may be, attempting to infer behaviour after an ad, as a result of the ad, may be somewhat tenuous. There are several problems with the effects literature. The first is its assumption that the basic unit of society is a rational, self-reflexiveindividual. In reality, the compulsion to buy is a result of a complex bundle of diverse and sometimes conflicting motivations, of which advertising is only one. A second problem concerns whether advertising is an effective channel of communication for persuasion. As the title of Michael Schudson's famous book Advertising,
communication theory called "constructionism" advances the uses and gratifications approach by suggesting that the public has considerable agency in interpreting messages, including ads. Ann Crigler defines it as an approach that "admits all people to roles of interpretation and issue definition limited only by their interest and attention to the topic."" What constructionism suggests is that less attention should be placed on impact and behavioural change and more on the dynamic way in which meaning is generated and the motivations of the sender. The true effects of advertising, therefore, may not exist in the micro world of purchase, but in the larger ideologcal world. For consumer goods, the ethic of capitalism and consumer sovereignty is reinforced in all advertising. In the case of advertising by government, the values or cultural patterns and ideas that may be affected are things such as our faith in government, our trust in politicians, or our sense of efficacy in the political system. It may be here where the real power of social marketing lies. This section has attempted to demonstrate several things about the politics of advertising. Advertising employs a code or grammar called rhetoric. Rhetoric allows the reader of an ad to understand its message and it is what makes an advertisement persuasive. It provides us with the tools to examine and take apart the apparent intention of the sender. While one may infer the intentions from the kind of arguments that are made, understanding the effects of an advertisement is more difficult. Anstotle himself argued that the audience would find speeches persuasive based on a number of external factors, such as the mood of the audience or the character of the speaker who should have "good sense, good moral character and goodwill."~~ppropriate style, delivery, and rhythm are also factors that affect rhetoric. These may be peculiar to each individual, so we must be circumspect when drawing conclusions about the success of a speaker. This section also has argued that, because advertising is an ideologcal instrument, we cannot view it "objectively" but must understand it through the lens of our culture.
the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society suggests, the impact of advertising may be overblown. Accordmg to Schudson, the influence of advertising is greatly exaggerated because "advertising is propaganda and everyone knows it."" For him, the effect of advertising is evident in creating and sustaining a consumer culture. We may remember a slogan or be able to recreate the argument of an ad, but this does not mean we will purchase a product. The effect of advertising is in shaping "our sense of values even under condtions where it does not greatly corrupt our buying habits."" In a similar vein, Stephen Kline sees "advertising not as manipulation but as a vehicle for situating .. . brands within established cultural patterns and ideas."'" A third issue, and one that has salience for government advertising, is how advertising effects are measured when there is no product to purchase. Government advertising, which is assessed and produced in the same ways as commercial advertising, rarely motivates one to purchase and in some cases does not require behavioural change of any sort. Finally, a further problem in the effects literature is that most versions of effects see the audience as somewhat passive-it is the object of communication. Older versions, such as the "magc bullet" approach, saw advertising as a one-way flow. While that has largely been repudiated, the dominant assumption is that receivers of an ad understand the messages in virtually the same way. Other theories, such as the uses and gratifications approach,'%hen applied to advertising argue that people are selective in how they understand, process, and mediate advertising. Culture, the environment in which the ad is viewed, the viewer's education, and the degree to which ads are used as a basis for social interaction are some of the intervening variables that may mitigate the effect of an ad. A new model of
The Advertising of Polities The adoption by politics of the language and rhetoric of a communication tool whose purpose is to sell products raises a number of issues that will be explored in this section. Government's use of advertising as a means of communicating to mass publics has important implications for democracy. Such advertising may radically change the relationship between
the citizen and the state. While much has been written on political parties and their advertising efforts, very little attention has been devoted to governments. This may be because during election campaigns all parties engage in an orgy of advertising that has become, for some, the primary source of information about the difference~between parties. The fact that researchers have found that viewers were more likely to remember negative ads than positive one? further contributes to the apparent power of party advertising. While election periods offer us a condensed and intense period of political advertising, it is the periods between elections that offer us real insight into the nature of political persuasion. Government advertising has several broad functions. The first thing that all government advertising does is to attempt to change attitudes. This may be done explicitly, as in the case of anti-racism or Canada Day ads, or implicitly by cultivating a favourable attitude towards an issue or policy. Second, government ads inform citizens about programs, policies, benefits. Ads in this way could provide an important and efficient way for the state to communicate on administrative matters to citizens. The third thing that they do is frame issues in certain ways. The introduction of a contentious policy, such as gun registration or the implementation of the GST, may be advertised as simply an administrative change in an effort to blunt criticism. The fourth function of government ads is to modify behaviour. Anti-drinking - and driving or anti-smoking ads are the clearest example of this sort of ad. Each of these will be examined in greater detail below.
Attitude Change Elsewhere I have argued that an appropriate metaphor for government advertising is, to borrow a phrase from Walter Lippmann, "malung pictures in our heads."" In his masterful book Public Opinion, Lippmann argues that "the health of society depends on the quality of information it receives." In a mass-media-saturatedworld, we are inundated with a variety of information sources that vary significantly in their quality. Lippmann suggests that our environment is "too big, too complex and too fleeting for direct acquaintance,"" so the public relies on business and political elites to make sense of the world outside. Demonstrating remarkable prescience, Lippmann suggests that "the world outside" is created by "malung pictures in our heads." "What each man does is based not on direct and certain knowledge, but on pictures made by himself or given
to him." ' In other words, we are no longer able to apprehend the vast array of conflicts, personalities, and issues but, accordng to Lippmann, require others to analyze and make sense of the world. While this is clear enough in terms of the role of the mass media, how does it relate to government advertising? The pictures created by government advertising make up the face that government presents to the public and, in some respects, the face that the public understands as government. State advertising is the primary means of cultivating these images and reinforcing the values of liberal democracy. Rhetoric teaches us that there are explicit and implicit purposes to arguments. The explicit purpose relates to the ostensible, immediate goal of the communicator. For example, when a lawyer argues on behalf of a person accused of murder, she is primarily concerned with persuading the jury of her client's innocence. As anyone who has seen any number of Hollywood films can attest, there is also often an implicit purpose to the defence. Perhaps the lawyer wants to expose racism in the justice system or perhaps she is malung a claim about police powers. The rhetoric of government advertising is no different. Canada Day ads not only remind Canadians of the importance of a national holiday but provide an opportunity to reinforce a long-standingmessage of the federal government: the importance of a strong and united Canada. Sometimes the attempt at attitude change is transparent. In 1980, during the Quebec referendum, the federal government ran anti-smolung ads that said in big letters, "SAY NO!". In smaller letters below was "to smoking." In this case the ad was an obvious attempt to influence Quebecers on the appropriate way to vote. Before the 1975 Ontario election, the Progressive Conservative government of Bill Davis was criticized for its tourism ads that read, "Life is good Ontario. Preserve It. Conserve It." The slogan was so close to Progressive Conservative that it almost appeared as a sound-alike or malaprop for the party name. One of the most famous ads prior to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 was one called "Flight." The federal government defended it as a feel-good ad about our democratic ideals, but given the context, it was an attempt to persuade citizens about the importance of a patriated Constitution. The spot opened with a slow-motion shot of geese flying a few feet above the water. A woman hums the first four notes of "Oh, Canada." As we see the geese flying, the narrator intones:
PART 3: PROCESSAND IMPACT O k THE MEDIA
FIGURE 5: Quebec's "Blood-bag"ad, 1999 Freedom is an important part of our heritage. As Canadians. [The woman continues to hum "Oh, Canada."] The right of each and every one of us to strive. To rise. ['The geese take off.] 'To be free. Kiding the wings of freedom, working together to make our hope and dreams come true. For all Canadians. [The woman finishes a verse of the national anthem and the screen fades to black.] Brought to you by the government of Canada. [The Canada wordmark is displayed.] ' '
"Flight" is an enthymeme whose missing premise may not be evident to those who view it 20 years later but whose argument was clear when it was first broadcast. The syllogism would look like the following: Major premise: Freedom is an important value. Minor premise: A constitution preserves freedom. Conclusion: Supporting a patriated constitution will preserve freedom.
The major premise was the content of the ad. The minor premise is not stated but the conclusion is alluded to in the phrases "working together to make our hope and dreams come true" and "for all Canadians." "Flight" is a good example of how advertising must be viewed in historical context to understand its full meaning.
Though it may be somewhat crude, other fedcri government ads make a more nuanced, implicit a1 gument for federalism.Just as there is an ideologcii: backdrop for commercial ads, so too is there mythic context for understanding federal govern ment advertising According to Murray Edelman. myths simplify a complicated world and act as in1 portant signs to guide our beliefs and actions." Thl5 1. especially true in Quebec where, to use the languagtof Roland Barthes, myths take simple first-orde.1 signs and imbue them with a greater secondan meaning. The myths become a second language tha: speaks about the assumptions of the first. An excellent case study of the role of myths in attl~ tude change can be seen through an examination oi two ads of a campaign that ran in Quebec news pa^ pers following the 1999 federal budget (see Figures ;. and 6). The government of Quebec spent $320,000 on a campaign designed to tell Quebecers that, according to Premier Bouchard, "there will be less money for health than we had hoped.""j The u-a\that it chose to portray this was to use blood bags to illustrate the difference in federal funding for health care for Ontario versus Quebec. The rhetorical techniques that were used here were an ethical appeal. ethos, and an emotional appeal, pathos. The disparih~ in size of blood bags is an obvious appeal to our sense of fair play. The ethical argument of this ad is that all Canadians are not treated alike. The emotional appeal is made in large letters: "How do you feel now?" The text elaborates the claim that the province of Quebec is getting short-changed in health-care transfers by quoting a former federal government minister who echoes the same sentiments. Above the government of Quebec wordmark in the bottom right corner, the last sentence of the text reads, "It's enough to make anyone sick." In this ad, the text is secondary to the visual, providing evidence to support the claims made in pictures. In the ad, the blood bags function as a kind of "metonymy," a common rhetorical technique that means a part standing for the whole. The blood bag stands for the disparate health of the two provinces. In other words, the ad tells us that metaphorically and literally, the lifeblood of the province is being taken away. The federal government countered the Quebec claims with the fleur-de-lisad (Figure 6). Fleur de lis with dollar signs running through them spreading out over the country is a strong visual response to the Quebec government ad. The large text which reads, "24% of the population [but] 34% of new transfer payments" invites the reader to look again at claims
11: THb ADVER~'ISINC: OF POLITICSAND THE, POLITICSO r ADVERTISING
us of our shared identity, and offer "moments of truth," as Hannah Arendt called them. The death of Pierre Trudeau in October 2000 offered this important moment of truth where the death of a former prime minister served as an opportunity to remind Canadans of who we are. Defining moments such as this become formative events in the life of a nation and are integral to myth malung. Information
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FIGURE 6: The Federal Government's Response
of unfairness. In response to Quebec's argument that all Canadians are not treated alike, the federal government agrees, turning the argument on its head. The ad suggests: "It's true. Canadians are not treated alike. Quebec is treated more favourably than other provinces." The fleur-de-lis, which extends far beyond the province, is a visual reinforcement of the written claims. Though the explicit dscussion that is occurring between the two governments in these ads is about different interpretations for health-care funding, the implicit point is equally important. This ad must be viewed in the context of the relations between the federal and Qukbec governments. Seen as such, it is part of the ongoing and historic claims of pevances by Quebec against Ottawa. It attempts to change attitudes towards federalism as much as it does towards health care. Much of federal government advertising, both in and outside of Quebec, has this function. While the ostensible purpose may be benign, the second-order meaning is deeply political. In this sense, government advertising develops and propagates large-scale myths (or stories) to ensure the social cohesion of society. Jacques Ellul called this "integration propaganda.""' These grand stories, or "noble lies" to use Plato's phrase, are vital to creating a quiescent mass public. They tell us who we are, remind
In addition to changng attitudes, advertising by governments also provides information. In fact, this is often governments' defence of it. Premier Bouchard's justification of the blood bag ad was that it was important to inform Quebecers about the impact of the recent budget. In October 2000, Health Minister Alan Rock justified his department's $6 million advertising expenditure by saying it was "public information about a public asset." The importance of education and ensuring that the public is knowledgeable about policies is a long-standingprinciple in democracies. Progressive thinkers in the early twentieth century, such asJohn Dewey, argued that having access to information was the means to enlightenment and rational political action. An informed citizenry is more effectively able to participate in public affairs, the argument goes. Dewey observed that "one great trouble at present is that the data for good judgment are laclung; and that no innate faculty of mind can make up the absence of facts."" Many citizens are uninformed about basic political information, and without it they are unable to make judgements that liberal democracy demands of them. Whether government advertising provides adequate "information" to fulfil a democratic obligation is an important issue. It is not clear that it does. While some ads do provide a wealth of information, others such as "Flight" are not informative at all. The GST ad illustrated in Figure 7 seems to be a classic example of an ad that aids in democratic deliberation by providng feedback (a 1-800 number) and access to pamphlets. In this 1990 ad, the word "information" or "info" appears five times. The lack of any graphic image, compared to Figures 5 and 6, aids in conveying a high degree of impartiality. Compared to the ethos and pathos of these other ads, the GST ad uses logos or a rational appeal to make its case. The tag line, "Information you should know," reinforces the government's argument that it is educating consumers about a proposed tax. While this might be true, the provision of information is itself a rhetorical
Informationfor All Canadians on the Proposed GST. .,"I-
technique designed to persuade. The GST was sold to Canadians as an administrative change in the tax system rather than a fundamental one." O n controversial issues, such as the GST or transfer payments, governments are more likely to use logos as a technique as it gives the appearance of objectivity. But ads, of course, can never be objective. Ads are inherently persuasive instruments. On controversial issues, governments run the risk of propagandizing as they are seen to intervene in a public debate that has not yet been resolved. In an effort to minimize this, controversial issues are sold as information. This may be evident in an ad by the appearance of statistics (see Figure 6), a t e x t - h e a presentation, ~ and the spartan use of graphics (see Figure 71, which often make a visually persuasive claim.
Framing According to Matthew Mendelsohn, "frames are persistent patterns of interpretation, presentation, emphasis and exclusion by which symbol-handlers routinely organize d i s c o u r s e . " ' ~ eall know that during an election campaign ads are used by political parties to frame issues in specific ways.'" One of the arguments this chapter makes is that while election campaigns offer an intense period of advertising by political parties, the advertising between elections by governments is as significant. The period between elections offers political elites the opportunity to frame issues that will be important during an election. By doing so, they are better able to control the agenda and discuss the election on their own terms. What frames do is present a version of reality that may become the dominant image in the minds of viewers. For example, George Gerbner has suggested that the proliferation of violence on television
IMPACT OF THE MEDIA
has cultivated a more violent society than one that exists. In this case, the fictional world of television frames our version of reality. When governments discuss the debt as one of the most important issues facing Canadians, they are engaged in framing. By not tallung about social welfare programs, unemployment, education, or other issues, they are attempting to make pictures in our heads. A common frame during an election campaign is that of a "horse race," with reporters covering who is ahead and who needs to make up ground. Like myths, frames are essential tools for understanding and simplifying a complex reality. One of the features that makes an advertisement work is its associative logic. Is a 30-second spot able to distil an issue into a concise message? Inasmuch as ads shape the attitudes and beliefs towards something, they can be said to be about framing. The GST was framed not as the controversial tax measure it was but as an administrative issue. Ads for gun registration are framed as an issue of responsibility. Early immigration ads framed Canada as a land of great expanse and freedom. It is important to recall that frames constructing the political spectacle are created by political elites and as such reinforce established power structures and values. Murray Edelman puts it succinctly when he writes that language about politics is a clue Lo the speaker's view of reality at the time. just as an audience's interpretation of the same language is a clue to what may he a different reality lor them. If there are no conflicts over meaning. the issue is not political, by definition."
Because all advertising uses frames and because frames are created from strategic decisions, government advertising can never be value-free or objective. Common frames used in state ads revolve around economics, human impact, or control. As I suggested in the previous section, even the most prosaic of ads-those that provide seemingly benign information, such as notice of government tenders-are political because they use frames to communicate a second-order message.
Behavioural Change A final function of government advertising is to modify behaviour. In this category we can put non-contentious kinds of behavioural change, such as ads that discourage drinlung and driving or smoking or those that encourage one to vote. In the 1980s, the federal government produced a series of ads extolling the virtues of fitness and bemoaning the relatively unfit nature of the average Canadian. These
11: T H ADl'ERTISING ~ OF POLITICS AND THE POLITICS OF ADVERTISING
"Participaction" ads used rich symbolism in their messages and even claimed that the average 30-year old Canadian was only, and possibly not, as fit as the average 60-year-old Swede, a claim that would later prove to be completely unfounded. '' Advertising by government may not be an effective means of changing the short-term behaviour of citizens. (Behaviour,however, may change over time as attitudes evolve.) States are in a unique position in society in that they are able to constrain behaviour and provide sanctions for those who violate these constraints. Advertising as a tool of behavioural change is a rather blunt instrument because there are no means of compliance. In other words, there is nothing that compels the audience to follow the strictures of the ad. In this way, they may more properly be seen as exhortations. Government ads that encourage behavioural change are often non-controversial and therefore may take liberties in terms of their use of symbolism, images, and even truth as the "Participaction" ads demonstrate. Health and Welfare Canada hired M c E m Advertising in 1993 to create an ad called "Morphing" that used Hollywood-style digital technology to show an adolescent being transformed into a cigarette, while other luds looked on in horror. After being transformed back into her normal state, all three children throw away their cigarettes and continue playing. The tag line says, "All you need is you." This lund of hard-hitting symbolism would not be used on controversial issues. Evocative symbols that may suggest an overt persuasive function are more likely to be used in campaigns where there is agreement surrounding the claims made in the ad. Demonstrating the difficulty advertising has in changing behaviour, focus-group testing of this campaign by Tandemar Research for Health and Welfare Canada said that "the ads were perceived as unique and memorable.. . . Messages were considered thought provolung and effective."" And yet, according to campaign traclung done by The Creative Research Group, 92 percent of those people who had seen the ad "probably will not or definitely will not" change their behaviour. This is 1 percent more than those who had not seen the campaign." The inherent paradox of this, and much advertising, is that to like or remember an advertisement does not mean that one will be motivated to change one's behaviour because of it. While behavioural change is a function of government advertising, demonstrating it conclusively is fraught with ambiguity.
Some Common Complaints Government ads are nearly universally disparaged and disdained. Writing about political rhetoric, but in words that seem equally appropriate to state propaganda, Kenneth Burke wrote that it serves to "sharpen up the pointless and blunt the too sharply pointed."1' This section will examine some of the more common complaints and explore the democratic implications of these. These concerns can be summarized as: government advertising is a waste of taxpayers' money; is a proxy for political party ads; is a denigration of Parliament; and represents a further commodification of culture.
The way that government advertisingis framed by the mass media is through - the lens of a waste of taxpayers' money. Recent newspaper headlines tell the story: "Federal Media Spending Called Orwellian Overlull"; "Ottawa Accused of Wasting Money on Propaganda"; "Ads Waste Money"; and "Public Funds are not for Politicking."'"he foremost criticism of government expenditure on advertising has been that it is a task that should not be done, or if it is, political parties should pay for it. When concerns are raised that advertising is a waste of money, there are really several related claims being made. First, government advertising is a waste because it does not work. In our media-savvy society, people know what the government is up to, and they won't let themselves be fooled by government ads, the critics say. Second, the messages being communicated are not the sorts of things on which governments should spend our tax dollars. Telling us to feel good about being Canadian is not something on which the government should advertise. Third, advertising is a waste of money because governments are not in the business of "selling" and ads are all about selling.
A Proxy for PoliticalAds Another common refrain against government advertising is that it uses public funds too often to do partisan work. Policies that are appropriately those of the governing party should be advertised by the party and not the state. Brian Mulroney's Conservative government was censured by the Speaker for advertising the GST using taxpayers' funds before it had been approved by Parliament. Until it had been declared law, it was merely the policy of the sponsoring party. Any advertising at this stage should be paid by the party and not government. In other cases, it is less clear. Is the federal government acting
PART3: PROCESS AND IMPACT OF THE MEDIA
unethically by advertising policies that it enacted and that will form the basis of the governing parties' platform in the next election? In October 2000, the federal Department ofJustice ran an ad campaign called "Children Come First." The prime minister had said, just before the election, that children would be a priority for his government if they were re-elected. This lund of election priming raises questions about when an issue ceases to be partisan. One criterion we can make is that no government should advertise legislation that has not yet received the royal assent. The conflation of party and government ads that happens close to an election might be made clearer by imposing limits on advertising in the last year of a government's mandate. Unfortunately, since the lifespan of any Parliament is not fixed, such limits could be evaded by simply calling an "early" election.
Denigration ofParliament The criticism that government advertising denigrates Parliament is made regularly by opposition M.P.s. The full argument is that by using advertising to persuade citizens, governments are ignoring Parliament as the "talhng place," which, etymologically, is what the word parliament means. The representative democratic imperative says that collective decisions taken by the people must be made by Parliament where citizens have given M.P.s the right to speak on their behalf. Government advertising by-passes this role and relegates the legislature as a passive participant. Liberal leader John Turner was furious when Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government advertised the GST as a fait accompli when the legislation was still before Parliament. Turner said, "The words [in the ad] constitute a contempt of Parliament, constitute an intimidation of Parliament, because ... the only inference to be drawn [from it] is that it does not matter what members of Parliament do in dealing with these taxes."" There are, however, equally compelling democratic reasons for state advertising. Governments have always argued that it is one of the few ways in which they can communicate with mass publics in an unfiltered and unmediated way. Government advertising may symbolize the decline of Parliament but also the increasing government-by-plebiscitetendencies in Canadian politics in which the state feels the need to communicate directly with citizens. While its practice does not preclude creating stronger ties with citizens, the reality is that government advertising further marginalizes Canadians by speahng at them and not involving them in genuine conversation. It is
as much a denigration of Parliament as it is of the precepts that underlie a more direct h n d of democracy.
Perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of government advertising is that, by employing the techniques, grammar, and codes of a mode of communication designed to sell products, it debases the entire political process. A 30-second spot is not an appropriate method to engage citizens on the complexities and subtleties faced by a multicultural citizenship. Ads reduce Canadian identity to mere slogans and create a hollow nationalism. At its worst, it is patronizing to speak to citizens on important matters of the state through a channel of communication that is designed to sell soap. Political and commercial advertising is becoming increasingly blurred. Both are adopting the language of the dther. For example, during the 1995 Quebec referendum, the Oui side adopted the daffodil, peace sign, and daisy as integral icons in its campaign. By cashing in on the revival of 1960s retro-fashion that was popular at the time, the Oui side was metaphorically saying that choosing to embrace sovereignty was no dfferent than choosing fashion. In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the federal government spent over $5 million on advertising "Our athletes, the pride of a nation." By branding our athletes with this slogan, the federal government was making us feel proud of our citizenship. Rhetorically, the ads were not much different from Roots, the clothing manufacturer that outfitted the Canadan Olympic team. Roots used our pride to sell clothing. The government used our pride to sell its version of nationalism. Though the products were dfferent, emotional appeals kathos) were the same. Bell Canada's "Dieppe" ad shows a young man who, in his trek through Europe, stops at Dieppe to call his grandfather to thank him for his wartime efforts. Molson's "I am Canadian" ad, which extols the cultural differences between Canada and the United States, has elevated a struggling actor into a nationalist hero and used patriotism to sell beer." If not for the product, the federal government could not have written a better script. In some cases, such as the h r Canada ad that ran in newspapers following the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada reference, companies make bolder claims about federalism than any government could. It showed row upon row of stop signs that filled two-thirds of the ad. In the closest row, the word "non" was spray-painted on a sign in the same way that stop signs were defaced in Quebec during the referendum. Except, as the text below the stop
11: THE ADVERTISINGO F
POLITICS AND T H E POLITICS O F
indicate, the Unon" was not an explicit endorse. ment of the federal position in a referendum, but rather was ostensibly meant to be read as "non-stop" as in Air Canada has more non-stops to the United States.'"
M a n g n ~v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, San Francisco Superior Ct. No. 959516. Accessible at . ~
edit~onof this book and especially the section called A d v e r t ~ r ~ ndig rected to Children. "
Kim B. Rotzoll andJames E. Haefner with Steven Hall, Adoertising in Contemporarj Societj: Perspect~oe~Eward Understanding, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Umversity of Chicago Prers, 1996), 2.
This c h a ~ t e rhas tried to show how politics informs advertising and how advertising is directing advermore and more Of politics'Just as tising is driven by ideological messages, so too is politici advertisinh. Examininn the rhetoric of governmerit advertising, one finds that within all ads are crafted arguments designed to persuade the reader. Rather than engaging - - citizens in the res publica, advertising marginalizes them and treats them as spectators. Government advertising may be a response to the general malaise that afflicts a Powing number of citizens. It may further the perception that politics is about posturing and hype and govemmerits are not willing to have serious ~lscuss~ons with citizens about issues that demand our attention. By exposing the limitations of state advertising and arguing its importance in the government's communications arsenal, this chapter has tried to suggest that we should not take government advertising for granted foremost a source of information for as first On the contrary>its persistence and growth may suggesta new and possibly . . ship between citizen and state.
Notes ,Jane Coutls, "Ontario health-care 'I'V ads Provoke Opposition Criticism," Globe andMazl. October 29, 1998. Ah. Danny Kucharsky, "Waving the Flag." Marketzng, June 12, 2000, 19. "
Eve Lazaru5, "B.C.'s Nisga'a Treaty sold on Emot~on,"Marketing, November 2, 1998,4.
Anne Marie Owens, "Author says U N Report not Meant to be Political." Natzonal Post, July 1, 2000, 4. Hugh Miinsor, "Exactly how much clout can $21.2-b1lhon buy?". Globe a n d M a ~ l September , 2 i , 2000.
" See Benjamin S~nger,"Advertising: A Soc~o-culturalForce" in the 4th
Aristotle, The Rhetorir and the Neu' Poetics (New York: Modern Library, 1954), Book 1, Chapter 2. Northrop Fr)-e, Anatomy o f Cr~ticum: Four Essays ;New York: Atheneum, 1967:, 245.
'.An excellent book on this subject is Dick Hebdige, Subrulture: The Meaning r f S t y k (London: Routledgr, l!IXi). "ousr of Commons, Debates,July 27, 1899. Cols. 865.1-8G.i.i.
"' P ~ e r r eBerton, The Promlsed Land: Settling the Canadian W e ~ 1896t 1914
(Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 19841, lh-17. " SeeJonathan Rose, "MakingPirtures in Our Heads": Goz'ernmentAduertisrngln Canada !Westport, CT: Praeger, 20001, ,5667 " Quoted in Jeffrey L. Derevensky and Carolyn Klein, "Children and Telev1sion:'A Contemporary L o o k In Helen Holmes and Daxid Taras. Seeing Ourselves:Media Poaer and Policy in Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1996). 51.
Dyer, Adocrt~singas Communication (London: Methuen, 1986),
The ad is reproduced in Robert Goldman, Reading Ads Social4 (London: Routledge, 1992), 4.
Em Griffen, A Fint l o o k at Communzcation Theor).(Ne\v York: McGraw Hdl. i!)!~ij, 269. See Rhetoric and Nezc Poetics, Book 2, Chapter 21
'"Andrew Wernick, Promotional Culture: Advertising, I d e o l o ~and Symbolic Expression (London: Sage, l99l), 23.
John Fiske, Introduction to Communiration Studres, 2nd ed. (London: hlethuen, 1990). ih.
'' Ruth Shalit, "The .Ad From Hell," Salon on-line magazine, May 29, 1999.
famous book, Aduertzsing, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubzous Impact on Amerrran Socletg (New York: Basic Books, 108.1;, 4.
Kline. Out ofthe Garden: To).s,TlJand Chi1d:enk Culture 7n the Age (fhfarketzng (Toronto: Garamond, 19931,27. 2"eeJ. G. Blumer and Elihu Kalz, The Uses ofMass Communiration: Current Perspertiues on Gratifirations Re~earch(Beverly Hills: Sage, 1074:. lj Stephen
Crigler, "Introduction, Making Sense of P O ~ I ~ ~Construct~ng CS: Pohtical Messages and Meanings" in Ann Cr~gler(ed.). The psycho log^ rfl'ohtical Communication (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Presa. l ! ~ ~1.) ,
Rhetoric, Book 11. 13iXa, line ti.
" Kathy Krllerman. "The Negatimty Effect and Its Impl~cat~onsfor Init ~ a Interact~on" l in Communzcat~on1MonoSraph.r 51 (1YX4),37.
" This ad can be mewed at (http://politicalads.ca>.
" See his Constructing the Political Spertarle (Ch~cago:University of Chicago Preas, 1988) " David Gamble and Paul Cherry, "Bouchard defends blood-bag campaign," Montreal Gazette. February 23, l99!>, A l .
~ . ~ 1J1 ~~1~,r o ~p ~ ~~~h~ ~ ~Formation ~ , ~j ~ ~:ofMenidttltu,jes pqew York: K n o ~ f lYi2). ,
'"John Dewel-, The Publir and Its Problems (London: George Allen 8i Lnwm, l92i), 209. SeeJonathan Rose and Alasdair Roberts, "Selling the Goods and Services Ihx:Government Advertising and Public Discourse In Canada," CanadianJournal ofPolitica1 Srience 28:2 (June 1995). ""Matthew Mendelsohn, "Television News Frames in the 1993 Canadian Elect~on"in Helen Holmes and David Taras (eds.), Seeing Ourselzles, 'Medta Pomer and Poliry In Canada, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Harcourt Brace Canada, 1996). See (http://politicalads.ca> for examples of some recent election ads.
Murray Edelman, Conrtrurting the Politiral Spertarle (Chicago: Univernty of Chicago Press, 1988), 104. "'James C h r ~ s t ~ "Partic~paction's e, Propaganda," Thr Globe and Mail Ma)- 7 , 1!19O, A l .
'" Tandemar Research Inc. "A Disaster Ad Check for Health and MielCare's Antl-Substance Campaign, 'Morphing,"' TR#32137, February 1993. Data received from author's Access to Information Request.
Creative Research Group Lim~ted,"Health and Welfare Campaign Tracking Presentat~on."May 1991. Data received from author's Access to Information Request.
Kenneth Burke, A GmrnmarofMotiues (New York: Prentice Hall, 1945). 393.
'%ontrea[ Gazette, November 8, 1980,8; London Free Press, Mav 4 , 1982, AH; Times Colonist, February I , 1999, A l ; ~ a t z o n a l ~ o ~s lu, n e ' l 2 ,1999, B8. "
House of Commons, Debates, September 25, 1989. 3819. ad can be viewed at .
T h ~verbal s pun in rhetorlc is called "syllepsis.'. It r e f e ~ to s a word ( u s u ~ ally a verb! that larks congruence with one subject it govcms. The "non" refers to the ilon~stopflights of an airIine but also thc French "non," the way in whlch federa~ystswould vote in a referendum on secession. The ad can be seen in The Wall StreetJournal, May 2i, 1!1!18, Ali.